Six years ago, I took possession of two large boxes which contained the papers of Antonio Nicola Pisano (1894-1979), my maternal grandfather. He came to America from Gasperina, a mountain village overlooking the Ionian Sea in Catanzaro, Calabria, Italy. He was sixteen years of age, and settled initially in the Queen Village neighborhood of Philadelphia. The portrait on the left was taken about 1915. Antonio was a writer of poems and plays in Italian. He started a theater troupe called the Filodramatic Circle Gasperinese active between the First and Second World Wars in the neighborhood of 7th and Christian Streets. He was a storyteller and my babysitter. Among my earliest memories were sitting beneath this photo of his parents, Giuseppe and Maria Innocenza Voci Pisano. Here he taught me the value of family history, and stressed the importance of remembering our ancestors. Thus, he passed on his interest and passion to me; leaving me with the task of having his story remembered.
Illustrated below is a copy of one of his poems, “Pascua” written in the form of a cross to celebrate Easter. This is only one of many of a vast anthology that he left among the two large boxes. In addition to the poems was a playbill from 1931 of The Filodramatic Circle Gasperinese for “The Passion Play of Christ, for Monday evening, March 30, 1931, at 7:30 p.m at the church of St. M.M. Auditorium at 7th and Christian Streets, and a photo of part of the cast. According to family history he produced and directed this play for ten years somewhere between the 1920 and 1930s.
I discovered PhilaPlace, at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a multi-cultural project telling the story of how different immigrant groups lived in the various neighborhoods. I traveled twice to meet with staff and begin donating his original works.
I have become a member of the society. I hope to compile a complete anthology of his poems, and to use them to write his biography. To do so, I hope to continue my affiliation and interest in the PhilaPlace project and the endeavors of the staff of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Editor’s note: Donna Meidt is a member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania who resides in Tempe, Arizona. A South Jersey native, she is a former Coordinator of Educational Programs for the Camden County [New Jersey] Historical Society, and is currently researching and writing about her family’s roots in Calabria, Italy, South Philadelphia, and Camden. She has recently donated many of her family’s papers, including her grandfather’s poetry and plays, to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. You can read the story of her great-grandmother’s South Philadelphia boarding house on PhilaPlace.org. Donna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .